Anxiety Disorders such as panic disorder described above, are far more common than most people think. In fact, recent estimates from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) show they are the most common mental illness in the United States.
Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older—or 18.1 percent of the adult population—suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a unique group of illnesses marked by persistent, irrational, uncontrollable anxiety. These include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, social phobia and specific phobias.
Researchers have found that anxiety disorders and chronic pain often occur together. In some patients, the stress associated with living with chronic pain may exacerbate conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression. Feelings of helplessness, loss of control and interference with daily activities from chronic pain can trigger mental health disorders in some pain patients. In some cases, the symptoms of an anxiety disorder may be similar to those of chronic pain and go undiagnosed. It is important to get a correct diagnosis since anxiety disorders are treatable.
The Most Common Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things, such as health, money or work. It is accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue and difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) entails persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears. Someone with OCD often will practice repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). For instance, obsessing about germs may lead someone with OCD to compulsively washing hands—perhaps 50 times or more per day.
Panic Disorder includes severe attacks of terror or sudden rushes of intense anxiety and discomfort. Symptoms can mimic those found in heart disease, respiratory problems or thyroid problems, and individuals often fear they are dying, having a heart attack or about to faint. The symptoms experienced during a panic attack are real and overwhelming, but not life threatening.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can follow exposure to a traumatic event, such as a car accident, rape, a terrorist attack or other violence. Symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance, detachment or difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Though it is commonly associated with veterans, any traumatic event can trigger PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. People who have SAD have what feels like exaggerated stage fright all the time. SAD is also called social phobia.
Specific phobias are intense fear reactions that lead a person to avoid specific objects, places or situations, such as flying, heights or highway driving. The level of fear is excessive and unreasonable. Although the person with a phobia recognizes the fear as being irrational, even simply thinking about it can cause extreme anxiety.
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